Creating Courses With Thinkific

Sarah: Please welcome Rob from Thinkific. Can you tell us a little bit about Thinkific? I’m familiar with it, but the audience may not be as far as how they help entrepreneurs and how you got started and why?

Rob: Yeah, absolutely, Sarah, thank you so much. Really, really excited to be on the podcast and thank you so much for everyone listening, and tuning in. So a little bit about Thinkific. It’s seven years old this month I believe or last month. So we’ve been around for about seven years. And so, what Thinkific is it’s an online platform where you can build create and market your online courses or training programs.

So, it really got started by Greg Smith, who is our co-founder and CEO, and basically he was a practicing lawyer at the time when he started it and he was teaching courses seven years ago. And so he was doing workshops. So, LSD is the exam for future lawyers, that they need to take. And so he was teaching that, doing workshops at the University here in Vancouver. In person workshops and so he was trying to do that and he was doing that for a while and he was doing the same, he was kind of teaching the same information over and over again and getting people to come to the in-person workshop and one day he had an idea that like, “Hey this is the same information. People sometimes can’t attend the in-person workshop.” So he figured he would put it online, and funny enough, so that he had one of his brothers, he had a couple brothers and one of his brothers is a programmer who helped them build this online course at the time. Thinkific wasn’t around, so there was no platform to do this. So he put together a website on WordPress and mishmash of different tools and platforms and so he kind of built the first version of his course. They launched it they had more students than they had expected and so they figured that “Okay we’ve got something here.” And so, they really started to build on that and do more marketing and things like that.

Now, the funny thing though, is that it got attention, from other professors in the university, that were teaching other topics and other subjects and asking him “Hey Greg, can you guys build me a course for my Chemistry program or biology program and things like that?” And so the idea kind of came to them that “Hey, maybe there’s something here where other instructors are also looking for a platform like this to build their courses online, so that was really the beginning of Thinkific that’s where it all kind of started. And for the first couple of years, they were a very small team, just a handful of them, just trying to understand the product market fit, and understanding the pricing and how that would all work. So now we have tens and thousands of course creators, hundreds and thousands of courses, so many students that actually take courses using the platform. Some of the viewers here, you may have taken courses that are housed on Thinkific, but actually you may not know that because a big part of what we try to do is actually white label ourselves, so that it’s not our brand to shine, it’s the course creators brand that shines. We have features in place that you can white label in topics so that nobody would even know that you’re using Thinkific for your business. So, that’s Thinkific.

Sarah: Yeah, and I know that there are some others out there, but I think you are the only one that offers a free plan. Can you tell us more about the free plan maybe how it differs from the paid plans and maybe when you would use a free plan or a paid plan?

Rob: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. So we wanna make sure we understand that building a course is not something that can happen overnight. It is something that takes time, it’s just like any business. And so, we’re very upfront with that, so we do have a free plan to help those newer course creators build their course, build their curriculum, build their landing pages and then start marketing that. So we do have a free plan.

It has everything that you would need to start building and selling your courses. On our free plan, you can sell a course. You can integrate Stripe or PayPal directly. Really easy takes two clicks and you can integrate Stripe, and PayPal to have payments.

And so, yeah, the main limitation to a free plan, is that you can build up to three courses so three course max, which is plenty, right? A lot of even our top level course creators that are making very good income, don’t have more than three courses, they have a flagship course and maybe a couple of lower price courses to get people into their funnel into the door. So absolutely, Sarah, you’re totally right. We do have a free plan and people can just get started on that.

Sarah: Okay, and I know you also don’t have transaction fees, which is also different from others. How does that even work? Don’t you have to pay transaction fees like from credit card companies?

Rob: So we don’t have transaction fees. So this is a recent change, we used to on our free plan and our first tier paid plan, we used to take 10% and 5% of the course fee, right, we’ve changed that so we just totally opened it up just to remove any barrier for anyone to even start building a course.

That’s a business position we’ve made, and we’re totally confident with that, we’re totally fine with that. So yeah, there’s no strings.

There’s no transaction fee. If you are using PayPal or Stripe obviously, you have to pay them a portion of your revenue. So if Sarah, if I purchase your course, you are in a free plan and you’re using Stripe you wouldn’t have to pay Thinkific, if, let’s say, your course was $100, you wouldn’t have to pay Thinkific any portion of that at all, but Stripe would probably take the 2.9% plus whatever it is, 30 cents, out of that $100. So that fee is still there, and that’s the fee that doesn’t go to us, it goes to PayPal or Stripe but outside of that, that would be the only cost for you there.

Sarah: Oh okay, yeah, I didn’t even think about that. For some reason I was thinking, transaction fees just to cover the credit card processing, but I guess that makes sense ’cause that’s usually 2.9%. And some of the others are charging 5% and 10% for transaction fees. Well, that makes more sense.

So I know that you can offer coupon codes, and payment plans like if I had a course and someone could choose to pay that over time or even apply a coupon code, is that correct?

Rob: Yeah, yeah, so you can. So we try to give as many options as possible to our course creators, right? So when they’re pricing their course you can price your course for free, so if you wanna just create a course that is maybe a mini-course that’s very short, they are very value-packed but you wanna offer free courses and lead magnet perhaps maybe on your blog or on Facebook or Instagram, as a lead magnet you’re like, “Hey, go down or go take my free course on creating really impactful videos for social media.” It’d be a free course, but now you get their email address, and then now you can feed and nurture them into your paid and upsell them into your paid courses.

You can set a free option for your courses, right? You can also set your course at a one-time fee, so you can charge $49, whatever you want, whatever price you want, you can charge a one-time fee for your course.

We also have a monthly subscription or recurring payment which has no end date, so if you wanted a monthly subscription ongoing forever, you can also change that from monthly to any duration a month. So what I mean by that is you can make it every month a payment every month, every two months, three months, annually, every 24 months, whatever you like, you can set that recurring subscription kind of based payment for your course.

It’s really becoming really popular now, by the way, Sarah, is a lot of course creators are starting to build membership sites and so that’s kind of the holy grail for a lot of course creators because now it’s predictable income they can predict their revenue and they know that they have a membership so now they can really pour into their membership and not worry about launching new courses, new products and so on every month. So that is the third one. So, subscription payments and then the last one is like you mentioned payment plans more like layaway or financing option. So let’s say my course is a $1000 one-time fee or maybe six payments of $200.So it’s like you kinda break it down but maybe if I do it on a payment plan option it’s a little bit more overall, but you can then break it down into a payment plan.

So those are the four options and within the payment plan subscription there’s a couple of variations that you can use, and then you also mentioned coupons codes. So marketing strategy for a lot of course creators is to provide coupon codes. So maybe they’re doing a podcast interview like this or maybe there are a YouTube interview or something or for a specific campaign, they may use a coupon code for some of those channels to track some of the ROI on some of those channels for them.

Sarah: Do you have the capability of having an affiliate program? So if you have a course, and could your students refer it, and then I say someone signs up to their link could they then earn a commission on that or is that a possibility?

Rob: Yeah, so for course creators, yeah, so Thinkific does have an affiliate tracking feature.

So Sarah, so if you had a course, I could become an affiliate of your course and share your course with my audience on social media or my email list or anything like that. It’s a really great way to get in front of a lot of people and especially work with people with big lists and big audiences.

Yeah, so as you can set whatever that commission rate would be for me as your affiliate and so, really easy. So we would track all of that. I would be able to log in, have my own log, into your Thinkific, and I can see a dashboard that shows my commission and how much I’m earning so far and how many people have clicked through my affiliate links and things like that. So, it’s very transparent, which is really good for both sides. And then whenever you wanna make payments to me, like payouts to your affiliates then you can do that.

And so you can just download a report a commission report and then you can upload it directly into PayPal, if you do a mass pay out to all of your affiliates at one time, so you can do that through PayPal or Stripe or however you handle your affiliate commission payouts.

Sarah: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to first of all, to promote the courses, it gives people incentive to pass the word along.

Rob: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Affiliate marketing is one of the best ways to really grow your business and get in front of a really warm loyal audience to you that’s loyal to your affiliates. But if they are promoting you, then it’s a no-brainer for them.

Sarah: And maybe some of the listeners haven’t even thought about starting a course. Do you have some ideas for topics, or a course ideas? I don’t have any courses as of right now, but I have ideas. So I already have a Thinkific account on the free plan, but I haven’t actually started anything with it yet, ’cause I’m still kind of developing the ideas in my mind, but yeah, if you have any tips or ideas or suggestions, or maybe even what types of courses you’ve seen people use it for.

Rob: Yeah, so that’s a really good question. My answer is that I have seen so many different kinds of courses from how to obviously the whole garment of online marketing strategies, how to become a YouTube, how do different things so, there’s courses on everything. It kinda reminds me of the old Apple commercial where it’s like there’s an app for that, there’s like a course on that.

So my suggestion for anyone that’s looking to start is this is I always tell people don’t build a course yet, right? So let’s say, you’re a social media manager, and you know, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, all those different channels so you’re like, “Okay I could teach on probably one of 30 different things, right?”

I would start first talking to your audience. A lot of course creators they make the mistake of creating the course building a whole course it’ll take them months let’s say, or they spend months doing it, and then launching and then realizing that there is no interest, there’s no market demand for what they want, what they’re selling.

So I always tell people, working backwards flip it around and start first by talking to your audience, right so if you’re using social media, which I’m sure most of the listeners are go into your social media channel, so let’s say Facebook or Instagram, Twitter is still a very viable channel, and if you have a YouTube channel start talking to your audience like, “Hey I’m building, I’m planning to build a course on Instagram marketing. What topics and what questions do you think I should be covering” right and leave it open-ended and you’ll find that people will then give you feedback like, “Oh I wanna learn how to use hashtags” or “Hey I wanna learn how you optimize Instagram stories” or “Hey I wanna learn how to drive my audience from Instagram in to my email list.” Like How do I do these things?

So, then you now have an idea. Okay, now, based on this, I kinda have an idea. Most of the people here are really looking to learn about Instagram stories. So now you build that course about Instagram stories and you wanna understand what people are looking to learn about Instagram, stories. So maybe you then post another question you say, “Hey, looks like everyone here…the majority would really like to learn about Instagram stories. What is it about Instagram stories that you’d like to learn about?”

Right, and so now your understanding and you’re understanding what they wanna learn, and then you basically then create the course, that would help them with the pain point, sort of things that they would like to get out of you, right? And it also gives you a perspective of how people see you, and what people see as an expert in not just like you’re not just a social media expert to them, “You’re an Instagram expert, your Instagram Stories, expert” ’cause they see your Instagram Stories maybe and they really wanna use that and learn that from you. So I would say first go to your audience and ask them what they would like to learn and then build that course. What that also allows you to do is, once you build that course, you can go back to that channel, let’s say on Instagram and say, “Hey it looks like that you learn more about Instagram stories. I’m gonna be pre-launching my course, it’s gonna be “Launch say June first, but I’m gonna give you early access at 10% off” or whatever that discount is because I wanna get some beta testers to go through it and give me me some feedback and then you can give them a coupon code right, they can then enter in, go through the course, give you feedback, maybe even give you a testimonial that you can use on your landing pages and your official launch, right? And so that’s sort of the playbook that I usually like to work in, is making sure that there is first validating the idea that there is a market for what I wanna teach, what course that wanna build and then building that course, and then going back to the people that had given you that initial feedback of what they want to learn from you and then telling them that “Hey, now I have that course here it is, you’ve asked for and I built it, and so I would love for you to go through it and be a beta tester at this discounted rate.” A lot of people also and I just wanna add Sarah that a lot of people also want to do the beta testing at a free price which I always urge against it because if you are giving something away for free, then people are signing up for that. It’s not really a full validation of your idea right, because it’s free, right?

So I think that if people need to pay and pull out their credit cards to then really fully validate your idea and it also brings value to what you’re creating and you’re gonna have a more engaged group of people because they paid for it, so now they wanna get their money’s worth out of what they paid for, so they’ll show up, they’ll take your course, your engagement rate and your completion rate will likely be higher because they paid for it. Like, “Hey I paid for this, I’m gonna show up” right so it’s like when you get a free ticket to a baseball game or something and I don’t know if I’m gonna go, it’s free anyway, what am I gonna lose? But if I paid for that ticket, I’m probably gonna show up, right? So that’s my suggestion, when you’re building a course, so especially when you have a few different ideas floating in your mind, you wanna just ask your audience like, “Hey this is when I’m building, what do you want me to cover, what do you wanna make sure that I include in my course” and then you’ll be surprised what people will tell you.

Sarah: Yeah, those are good suggestions. And I like that idea about having to pay even for a beta test because if everybody can do it for free, then you might get a lot of people who aren’t even interested in that topic, and so you might get some kind of skewed results as far as their input or maybe they won’t even give any input b/c they’re just wanting a free course or something.

Rob: So yeah, exactly, exactly, yeah, so I definitely charge for it. One other tip I forgot to mention, Sarah was if you had the capacity. My suggestion is, for the first run of your course is to do it live right and say “I’m gonna actually do this live with you, it’s gonna be a four-week thing once a week on Tuesday for 5 PM or 6 PM or whatever we’re gonna be doing this live. I’m gonna teach you live through a Zoom link” or whatever and what you wanna do there so you wanna do a live, you wanna record it and then give your let’s say it’s a four-week or six-week curriculum, right? You have six chapters, and then you wanna teach a live and then you give your presentation, you have your lecture, you record that and then when you’re done, you pause right, you stop the recording. And that essentially becomes your first lesson like, each of those recordings can become your lesson in the Evergreen version of your course. You stop the recording, and then now you ask you do Q&A and then that way you’re getting immediate feedback, so if you’re teaching on Instagram Stories and so the first, maybe the first lesson or the first week would be about creating images or something. How do you create images, that’s vertical for Instagram, and that’s gonna be optimized right?

And so, then you teach on that. 

You stop the recording, that becomes your first lesson. You can upload that to Thinkific.We host all of videos and then now you’re doing Q and A. and the nice thing about that is, you’re getting immediate feedback. People are like, “Oh that’s really awesome. That’s really useful, but I can you stickers.” So then they’ll ask you all the questions and then you’re like, “Oh okay, that’s what you really wanna learn about.” And then now you can apply all of those, the Q and A, you can apply that, if you then re-record that lesson again and you can kinda tweak your presentation so that you know that you’re covering everything that somebody would want to learn from that course.

Sarah: Oh wow, yeah, I didn’t even think of that. Those are good suggestions. And as far as the paid beta course how much do you recommend charging for that ’cause I imagine you probably wouldn’t wanna charge what the course itself is actually really gonna cost but probably less than that, I would assume. Is there kind of a standard or typical charge that you get?

Rob: Yeah, you know, pricing is such a moving target, it’s so difficult. I wouldn’t discount it too heavily because there is a lot of value of you being live. That’s sort of the best reason why you wanna do it live because your time is worth a lot of money. If you’re doing it live then there’s value in that. But you’re doing it live you almost don’t necessarily even need to discount right, because you’re live you’re showing up, you’re answering questions on the spot, they have access to you, you wouldn’t wanna be charging the regular, let’s say, hourly rate of your a consultation time.

So it’s a bit of tricky math, to do to be honest, I always end up tripping around this question when people are like, “How do you charge…” So what I always refer to is that we have a full training that our CEO Greg Smith created on how to price your online course, and he actually breaks it down by a number of different methods based on if it’s like, let’s say, if it’s a tool that they would use to perhaps get a promotion or something, right? If I can learn something that I can apply to my work that would save me time and money and also even if it’s something that I applied to my trade that would allow me to level up in my career, then that there’s ways for him that he’s sharing that he can calculate that.

For example, there’s a gentleman, the teacher, his name is Chris Newman, and he has what’s called a Chopper Academy and he teaches people how to fly commercial drones for a films and things like that. And so, if you learn that trait, if you learn that skill, you can go out and you can actually charge pretty good money for your time at for that service. So he charged us $1500 for his course and iIt’s not live, it’s all recorded. He recorded at one time and now he charges $1500 per student, so he has a lot of students each year, so he does really well. But that’s the value of it. People are willing to pay $1500 to go through his online course because they know that after he does that, then he can go out and I can go out and charge pretty good money for my services now. So, another example with pricing on the other end is HootSuite. So, HootSuite has what’s called HootSuite Academy. And they teach people for free how to become a social media manager, right?

They’re giving it away for free because the way that they monetize is that they’re gonna teach you is at the end of it by “Hey, you can make your life easier by using HootSuite.” It’s a lead magnet for them, so they’re giving it away for free because they monetize it by subscriptions to their platform to their tool. 

It depends on how you’re monetizing it a lot. Of course, there’s a lot of course creators, a lot of consultants, for example, that don’t charge for their courses, they’re giving their courses away for free because what people are really looking for is that one-on-one interaction. So there’s a lot of coaches out there that give away their full course for free. Maybe four years, five years ago, they would have been charging $3000-$4000 for their courses, but now they’re giving it away for free because at the end of it, people wanna work with them directly and that’s when they then do the coaching program at like $3000-$4000 a month.

So it depends on how you are monetizing your business and how online courses and training fits into the whole funnel, but you can charge up front, or you can charge later on down the funnel.

Sarah: And another question I have, what are the different options in the course that you can do? Like I know you can do video or audio and you can even upload PDFs, isn’t that right? Like maybe worksheets or things like that?

Rob: Yeah, yeah, so you can upload all types of media files, so videos, audio files, PDFs, you can make presentations, so you can upload PDFs, and then do a voice-over inside of our platform for each of the pages of your PDF, can create quizzes, you can create exams, full-blown exams with rotating multiple choice questions and randomized questions and stuff like that.

You can now create assignments which we’re really excited about, so students can submit a file to you that you can then review before they can move on to the next lesson. So, it gives that more really fine, fine tune student experience, like a regular classroom would be where I’m like, “Hey here’s my assignment Sarah, look over my video.” Or let’s say I’m an acting coach or something and I’m taking an acting lesson, or an acting course, then you can teach me something about acting, I can then film myself doing that thing that you want, that you just taught me and then you could give me feedback based on that video, and then maybe a resubmit another video before I can go on to the next lesson.

So student experience is something that we’re really focused on. And then I’m pretty sure I’m missing a couple of different content types, but those are the main ones that are really popular.

Sarah: Okay, yeah, that’s neat. How you can kind of lock content until you review it and whatnot. So then do a lot of actual teachers and professors of schools or colleges, do they use Thinkific then?

Rob: Yeah, more and more post-secondary institutions, universities, colleges, associations are using Thinkific for their ongoing renewal for their licenses and permits and things like that, so it’s becoming more and more mainstream, not just entrepreneurs and solopreneurs and things like that, but yeah, actual institutions are starting to use online courses for their curriculums.

Sarah: Oh wow, yeah, that’s really neat. I wonder if there will be a point some day, when every form of education is online.

Rob: Yeah, yeah, I feel like that’s the direction it’s going for sure, that’s definitely the trend.

Sarah: All right, well I think you’ve answered most of my questions. Is there anything else you wanted to share with the audience?

Rob: No, I think that’s really it. Thanks Sarah, for reaching out and connecting and

inviting me onto your podcast. It’s been really fun. If anyone has any questions, feel free to reach out to us any time. No questions are too silly or too simple or too hard. So just send them over and we’re happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Sarah: I think I’m gonna start using “There’s a course for that” instead of “There’s an app for that.”

Rob: Absolutely

Sarah: All right, well thank you so much for your time today

Rob: Thanks Sarah

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